Wisdom and Compassion:
The Awakening of Consciousness in Film

by Francis G. Lu, M.D., and Br. David Steindl-Rast

Since 1990 Dr. Francis Lu and Brother David Steindl-Rast have led annual 5- or 7-day film seminars at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.  Films on a particular spiritual theme
(such as Healing Through Gratefulness) are shown and discussed, focusing on the participants’ personal experiences.  In 2009 "Wisdom and Compassion: The Awakening of
Consciousness in Film" was the theme.


  • To understand how film can function to evoke the virtues of wisdom and compassion and the experience of the awakening of consciousness across cultures and time in both the film characters and in the lives of the participants.
  • To understand the importance of wisdom and compassion for positive states of mind/body.

Wisdom is the bliss of seeing through the delusion of self-preoccupation to reveal the underlying dimension of freedom. Compassion is the expression of such bliss to others and sensitivity to other’s suffering.” --Robert Thurman


Man and woman from 1940s embracingIf humankind is to survive and evolve, consciousness must be awakened towards the virtues of wisdom and compassion. During this seminar, we will show 18 films that each depict the awakening of consciousness in the characters of the film as well as portray the many facets of consciousness during the entire week. These include awareness of the poor and oppressed, finding meaning and purpose in life when confronting death, evoking compassion and mercy in the midst of cruelty, joyful participation in the sorrows of the world, and the experience of transpersonal consciousness beyond that of earth.  The films are from the US, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK, Argentina and Brazil.

Films shown in this order:

Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
The Dead (1987)
The Official Story (1985)
Journey to Italy (1954)
Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962)
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Flowers of St. Francis (1950)
Saint of 9/11 (2006)
La Strada (1954)
Shadowlands (1993)
The Harp of Burma (1956)
Central Station (1998)
Kundun (1997)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Compassion in Exile (1993)
Bagdad Café (1987)
Casablanca (1942)

See these other film themes:

Twenty Favorite Films from the Esalen Film Seminars 1990-2011

Twenty More Favorite Films

Healing Through Gratefulness,
Exploring Nirvana and Salvation,
Learning to Forgive,
Renewing Integrity Through Film:  The Vision of Truth,
Exuberance, Creativity and Delight,
Renewing Wholeness: The Spiritual Experience of Viewing Great Films,
Families in Film: Now and Forever,
Intolerance, Social Justice & Reconciliation,
Imagining the Feminine,
Films Envisioning a Hopeful Future
Guiding Lights in Film: Inspirations to Live By
Transformative Journeys in Film: Awakening to the Eternal Now